Prologue | Table of Contents | Chapter 12

When Jesus first met Simon He saw beyond his rough, impetuous fisherman exterior and gave him a name which prophetically depicted the transformation or conversion that God had preordained for Simon's life. Never having met Simon before, "Jesus looked at him and said, 'You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas.' Cephas means Peter (or rock)" (John 1:42 NIRV). Does anything seem out of the ordinary about this? Try this sometime: walk up to a total stranger on the street and change their name. See what happens. Although this is unusual for man, it is normal for God. When God renames a person, faith is at work--the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen on the surface. Another example was when He spoke to Abraham regarding the barrenness of Sarai. In changing her name to Sarah there was the promise of fertility (Genesis 17:15) God saw Abraham in Abram, Sarah in Sarai, Israel in Jacob and now Jesus saw Peter in Simon. The principle involved in Christ giving Simon the name Peter (a stone) is the principle by which Christ builds His Church.

Jesus Washing Feet

In the Hebrew, the changing of the name implied a change of character and position. It spoke of destiny and promise. Therefore names were given prayerfully and carefully and often at the command of God Himself. This was the case with Jesus. "His name shall be called Jesus [Yashua-savior] for He shall save . . . ."

Peter was a common fisherman, uneducated. He was impetuous. Some call him "the apostle with the foot-shaped mouth." He was constantly in the fray. All his faults were documented for the world to see. It seems that special precautions were taken to insure that none of them were missed even after he was known as an apostle!

When Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do people say that the Son of Man is?" Simon Peter answered, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God." Jesus replied, "You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it (Matthew 16:13-18). This conversation between Jesus and Peter is profoundly deeper than it first appears. The recounting of the earthly flesh and blood name Simon with the immediate mention of God's prophetic name Peter draws our attention to the process more than the man--the principle more than the person. "You are blessed, Simon son of John . . . I say to you that you are Peter. . . " The name Peter represented the call and destiny of the man Simon. The name Simon represents the ideal choice for God's lively stones. The reference to Simon as Peter--a stone--in the context of Christ building His church, is clearly a reference to Peter's place as a lively stone in the building. In this one discourse Jesus alludes to the Church (ekklesia), its foundation, its builder, its substance, its construction and its architecture. Christ's Church is not built with brick and mortar but is made of lively stones aligned to the Chief Cornerstone who is also the Capstone, the Alpha and the Omega.

Peter is not the rock or foundation of the church. Peter represents the material (living stone) from which the church is built and the process through which such stones are shaped and fitted. Peter's conversion from Simon to Peter shows how Christ builds His church, one stone at a time. The words upon this rock imply foundation. "Upon this rock, upon this foundation, I will build my church" said Jesus. Is Peter the foundation of the church? The answer to that must be no! Jesus is the Cornerstone and Foundation! Isaiah prophesied His coming preeminence when he said, "Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; he that believeth shall not make haste."

The issue we want to address here is the principle embodied in the names Simon and Peter. It is Peter that sets forth most vividly the building process.

Peter, the Prototypical Living Stone

Peter was not the foundation as some teach, but the name Peter is representative of the kind of building materials (living stones) Christ has chosen and yet chooses to use in His building. The name Peter also represents the principle for quarrying pillars in the temple of God upon whom the name of God and the name of the city of God are written (Revelation 3:12). The Old Testament temple was the manifest type of both Christ's church and the heavenly Jerusalem. We see in its building the quarrying of the individual stones before the silent construction began. This is greatly significant.

"And the house, when it was in building, was built of stone made ready before it was brought thither: so that there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building." (1Kings 6:7)

The quarrying process represents our conformity to Christ. The quarry is typical of the means and ways that God forms His Son in us. It is representative of our being shaped to the Cornerstone. It speaks of the circumstances wherein our rough, protruding and non-conforming edges are knocked off. All that is done in the quarry is done with the Cornerstone in mind. There we take on His shape, His likeness. Each stone is cut to join to Him and each other--joint to joint, seam to seam--fitting, joining, and lapping together.

In the quarry the focus is not so much on the individual stone, but on the overall fitting, conformity and relatedness of each stone to the cornerstone, and the interrelation or arrangement of each stone in the complex and unique architecture of the building. When you look at a beautiful building you do not see the individual stones but the overall magnificence contributed by all the stones. You see the grandeur of its awe-inspiring arches and columns but you do not see the individual stone. Much like Peter, the individual stone appears rather lackluster. However, if a single stone is missing there is left an unsightly hole that greatly detracts from the overall beauty and strength of the building. How much more is this true when the Cornerstone and Capstone are missing? This is why Paul wrote, "For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ"(1 Corinthians 3:11 NKJV).

As with the old temple, all cutting and shaping of the individual stones takes place in the quarry. Neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the house while it was being built. It quietly and mysteriously appeared on Moriah's crest (see 2 Chronicles 3:1). This is so relevant! When it comes to the building of the Church, the clamor of the axe and hammer of men hinders the true work of the Spirit. It was the axes and hammers of men that eventually brought down the walls of Solomon's temple.

Your enemies roar in the midst of your meeting place; they set up their banners for signs (a distinguishing mark). They seem like men who lift up Axes among the thick trees. And now they break down its carved work, all at once, with axes and hammers. (Psalm 74:4-6)

The divine building of God cannot be aided by the devices of men. Even well intentioned men who employ the rough tools of their flesh in the name of building Christ's church cannot help but break down the carved works of it. They seem to have little respect for God's sovereign workmanship in the individual stones and accordingly fit them to their own designs, turning out disciples reflecting their own likeness and values (see Acts 20: 29-30). The true Church is founded on and built by Christ.

The Conversion Principle Embodied in the Name Peter

In choosing the stone for his famous statue of David, Michelangelo settled on a flawed stone, one that had been rejected by previous sculptors. When asked why he had chosen an inferior stone his reply was "I have chosen this one because this one is the one with David in it!" He saw the finished work in the stone where others could only see the flaws. We believe that Michelangelo chose a flawed stone so that the excellence and exquisiteness of the work might reflect his true talent. Likewise God chooses the weak and flawed stone so that the glory of the finished product might reflect Him, not us (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Like Peter, the ones God calls are not chosen because they are great, noble or wise. No! God sees beyond rough exteriors. He sees beyond the rough fisherman, the flawed prostitute, the hated publican, beyond all faults, earthly habits and propensities. He sees an image inside the stone. He sees the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). He sees the finished product. He sees an extraordinary image in unlikely stones. In these flawed and rejected stones He sees the Rock. This divine Sculptor sets His hands to chip away the excess to reveal the form of Christ.

So we see in Simon Peter not the foundation but the process by which all believers are purged from dependence upon their own strength, founded upon the Rock, Jesus Christ, and thereby take on His character--His stability--and are made a strength to the brethren. These stones are made without hands in what seems an eternity in the darkness of the Father's quarry.

Something was required before Simon could realize all that the name Peter implied. A conversion was required.

The Lord was preparing His disciples for His death on Calvary. Jesus said to them, "Where I go, you cannot follow me now, but you shall follow me afterwards." Simon asked, "Lord, why can't I follow you now? I will lay down my life for your sake" (John 13:37). Sound familiar? Have you ever dared to say something like this? How often have our well-intentioned cries, "I will serve you, Lord! I will lay down my life for you," ascended before the throne of Christ? How quickly our bold declaration fades into a bemoaning of our inconsistencies and failures, leaving us smoldering in shame and silent self-disgust. Even when drawing upon all our strength and resolve we seem destined to deny Him and fail. So it was with Simon.

Jesus answered Simon first with a question and then an answer. "Will you lay down your life for my sake? Verily, verily, I say unto you, The cock shall not crow, till you have denied me three times" (John 13:38). Matthew records Peter's response.

"No!" Peter insisted. "Not even if I have to die with you! I will never deny you!" And all the other disciples vowed the same. (Matthew 26:35 NLT)

Before we judge Peter too harshly we should note that all the other disciples made the same promise. But as usual no one did it with Peter's pizzazz. The story unfolded just as the Lord foretold. Peter openly denied the Savior three times. Luke's records the warning that Jesus gave Simon, just before he made his bold and heroic declaration.

And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan has desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for you, that your faith fail not: and when you are converted, strengthen your brethren. (Luke 22:31,32)

Jesus admonished Peter regarding the true nature of the crisis before him. It was a sifting designed to bring conversion and strength. The earthly name Simon was repeated twice for emphasis and witness, "Simon, Simon." Simon had to be sifted before Peter could emerge. A sifting and winnowing stood between Simon and the realization of all that the name Peter implied. In this sifting, Simon's natural strength was broken. Simon's self-confidence was shaken as he learned the utter futility of attempting to follow Jesus in the strength of his own soul. Through this sifting, he was converted from one life-source to another--from his natural strength to the life and resources of Jesus. Simon learned that his Simon-nature could not follow Christ to the cross. Now to the point of this chapter, "When you are converted, strengthen your brethren."

Simon's denial of Christ is typical of much that goes on in Christian circles today. While claiming to live a life laid down for Christ, they lack the spiritual strength required to truly strengthen the brethren. Few are the souls who have submitted to the sifting, who have been converted and enjoy the spiritual strength to truly strengthen the brethren. The ultimate outcome of man's ambition to do the right religious thing is the betrayal of Christ. It must be so! God will allow no flesh to glory in His presence. It is through failure that we learn to place no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3). In the context of Simon's conversion, what faith he had in his natural abilities was shifted onto God. It was imperative that Simon's faith in his natural strength, resolve and abilities fail him in order that his faith might rest in the sufficiency of God alone. This is true conversion.

One look at Simon and we know there is hope. When the enemy sifts us, only our faith in ourselves will suffer in the end. Our faith in Christ will not fail. This is the principle means by which God causes the rocks to praise Him. As He did for Peter, our Savior is praying and interceding for us that our strength and confidence in ourselves would fail and that we, too, would be totally converted. No matter what you are going through right now, remember, He has prayed for you! No matter how painful your trial, remember, He is touched with the feelings of your infirmities. As you endure the painful quarrying process you will find strength--more than enough strength--enough to strengthen the brethren--and that is what it is all about, self for others.

Simon's bold declaration, "Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!" echoed in his mind, in condemning tones, as a haunting and constant reminder of his failure. He would not make the same mistake twice. He never again overestimated his strength and resolve. He was more careful to not think more highly of himself than he ought to think. However, on that faithful day when Jesus asked him those three telling questions, Simon was sorely tempted. Jesus tested Simon, giving him every opportunity to repeat those fatal words--words that in effect are the equivalent of the modern-day revival cry "I will lay down my life for you Jesus. I will serve you."

In the following conversation between Jesus and Peter there are two different Greek words translated love--agapao and phileo. Agapao is love in its highest expression, sacrificial love, where the one loving gives his all for the ones loved. "Greater love (agape) has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends" (John 15:13). Phileo is a word that is much cooler in intensity, which means fondness--a friendship kind of affection.

Jesus: "Simon son of John, do you agapao me? Do you love me with a sacrificial love, so intense that you would lay down your life for me? Do you love me more than the rest of these, your brothers?"
Simon: "Yes, Lord, you know I phileo you. I have a friendship fondness for you."
Jesus: "Then feed my lambs."
Jesus: "Simon son of John, do you agapao me? Do you love me with a sacrificial love, so intense that you would lay down your life for me?"
Simon: "Yes, Lord, you know I phileo you. Ihave a friendship fondness for you."
Jesus: "Then take care of my sheep."
Jesus: "Simon son of John, do you even phileo me? Do you even have a friendship fondness for me?"
Simon: "Lord, you know everything. You know I phileo you! You know I have a friendship fondness for you!"
Jesus: "Then feed my sheep."

Here, once again, Jesus does not refer to Simon as Peter, which He usually did, but instead uses his flesh and blood name Simon son of John. Simon could never agapao Jesus, but Peter could. Simon dared not use the word agapao. He had already proven himself a failure once. Instead he used the lesser word phileo. There can be no doubt that Simon was Christ's friend. He was fond of Jesus. No one can deny that. He had left all and followed Jesus for three years. But did he agapao Jesus? Did he love Jesus with a sacrificial love, expressed in laying down his life? Not yet! Looking into the future, Jesus assured Simon that there would come a time that he would, by the grace of God, glorify Him in death.

"The truth is, when you were young, you were able to do as you liked and go wherever you wanted to. But when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will direct you and take you where you don't want to go." Jesus said this to let him know what kind of death he would die to glorify God. Then Jesus told him, "Follow me." (See John 21: 15-19 NLT)

Yes, Simon did eventually lay down his life for his friend Jesus. Tradition has it that when he was older he was indeed bound and taken where he had formerly been unable to go. Tradition has it that after years of embracing the cross in his heart, it came to pass on that faithful day in Rome that Peter hung upside down on a literal cross for the love of his friend Jesus, asking to be crucified downward because he reasoned that he was not worthy to die in the same manner as had his Lord and Friend. So it is with the utmost respect that we now call him Peter. What devotion! What greater love is there than this? Was Peter a stone? Undoubtedly! Was He the Rock? No! But he looked an awful lot like Him. We see in that name Peter the process by which God aligns lively stones to the Cornerstone. Jesus builds His church with such stones.

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it." (Revelation 2:17)

Prologue | Table of Contents | Chapter 12

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